Natural Foods Merchandiser

Women's Health Market, Potential And Direction

Without a doubt, women's health has the potential to become one of the most lucrative dietary supplements, functional foods and OTC market segments of all time. And savvy marketers are pouncing on the opportunities. Why not? In 1998, the U.S. Surgeon General predicted that gender would be the most important factor affecting people's health in the 21st century. Nearly three-quarters of the Fortune 500 CEOs selected "customization of products and services" as the No. 1 winning strategy for the 21st century. Atlanta-based HealthFocus reports that 75 percent of Americans already believe that everyone's nutritional needs are different.

A Very Receptive Market
Women follow more preventive health measures than men and are the primary drivers of the wellness and self-care movements. According to the Hartman Group in Bellevue, Wash., America's 93 million women supplements users spent $14.3 billion last year. The Consumer Healthcare Products/Roper 2001 "Self Care in the New Millennium" survey confirms that more women are regular dietary supplements users than men (60 percent vs. 46 percent) and nearly one-third are using them to treat a health condition (only 23 percent of men are). Last year, Prevention magazine reported that of those who took a vitamin/mineral pill every day, 58 percent were women; of those who took an herbal remedy "regularly," 52 percent were women, and of those who took a specialty supplement "regularly," 52 percent were women. The 2001 CHP/Roper confirms women are also more frequent users of OTC products, 82 percent vs. 71 percent for men.

Women dominate the ranks of America's 74 million self-care shoppers, New Age health supporters and natural, organic and fortified foods buyers. Women exercise more often than men and are the primary drivers of alternative medicine and green pharmaceutical movements. They frequent alternative health practitioners and visit traditional physicians more frequently. Wyeth-Ayerst reports that women spend 66 percent of all health care dollars and purchase 59 percent of all prescription drugs. They are a great target and have already driven sales of natural personal care products to $3.6 billion and cosmeceuticals to $3 billion, according to the Freedonia Group in Cleveland.

Highly Desirable Demographics
In general, women's interest and actions related to health and nutrition increase with age (40-plus), education, income and the existence of undesirable health conditions. Gallup's 2001 "Focus Report on Women's Changing Health Care Needs" confirms that supplements use increases with age: 66 percent of women age 65 or older take vitamins, 64 percent age 50 to 64, 50 percent age 35 to 49 and 28 percent age 18 to 34. Demographic projections couldn't be more supportive of the women's health market since the number of women older than 40 will jump from 63 million to 73 million by 2010, and 80 million by 2020. In the next decade, women age 45 to 54 will increase by 25 percent, and those 55 to 64 by 53 percent (see chart on page 44). This growth is critical to retailers and marketers: Multi-Sponsor Surveys in Princeton, N.J., projects that within the next five years, the 50- to 64-year-old boomer segment will experience more than a 30 percent increase in the incidence of stress, lack of energy, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer and digestive problems. Women in other age groups are no exception.

Already A Big Market
Women's health already represents some large market segments. More than one-half of the 51 million women age 20 or older are overweight, 53 million have cholesterol levels higher than 200 mg/dL and 26 million have been diagnosed with arthritis. And the pipeline will be filled by generations of all-too-sedentary young girls already suffering from high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, weight problems and inadequate intakes of fruits, vegetables, calcium and fiber. And, with nearly one million new cases of arthritis each year, 800,000 cases of diabetes and 175,000 new cases of breast cancer, women's health will remain center stage.

Not surprisingly, according to HealthFocus, 79 percent of women shoppers are interested in learning more about foods that boost the immune system, folate and heart disease (74 percent), potassium and cardiovascular health (73 percent) and nutrition and healthy skin (69 percent). Despite negative publicity recently about herbals, 62 percent still want more information about herbal remedies, 68 percent about vitamins and minerals, 78 percent about foods that reduce the risk of disease and 77 percent about cancer-preventing chemicals in fruits, vegetables and grains.

Scientifically Secure
The best news is, it's not just hype. Men's and women's physiological and nutritional needs are different. Women have distinct biological differences in organ systems, including the heart, brain, bones, skin and saliva, and at the cellular level, too. For example, women metabolize aspirin differently, their hearts are two-thirds smaller and beat faster, and they have higher immunoglobulin levels, enabling them to better resist viruses. Women are also more likely to suffer from arthritis, autoimmune conditions, osteoporosis, high cholesterol, diabetes and depression.

But the future looks bright. The stream of new information and medical discoveries specific to women will explode. The U.S. National Institutes of Health have created an Office of Research on Women's Health and have adopted an official policy that requires the inclusion of women in all relevant government-funded clinical research trials. As science unravels new health links and metabolic and risk-factor differences for women, the market will grow. Medical schools now offer specialties and departments in gender medicine. More science will make more news, getting more media, marketer and mass-market attention. Most importantly, according to Sloan Trends Early Warning and Trend Tracking system, women's health was already the most-covered media topic in the United States relating to health and nutrition last year—above herbals, cholesterol and weight.

Series Part II: Women's Health Market: Attitudes and Behaviors
Series Part III: Women's Health Market: Concerns and Conditions
Series Part IV: Women's Health Market: Megamarkets, Nuances And Emerging Segments

Dr. A. Elizabeth Sloan is the president of Sloan Trends & Solutions Inc., in Escondido, Calif. 92046. Contact her at 760.741.9611, or e-mail [email protected]

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXII/number 10/p. 42, 44

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.